There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brands of fish oil on the market today. Most major grocery chains even their own brand of fish oil. Pharmaceutical grade is mostly a marketing term. Since fish oil is a food supplement it is loosely regulated if it is regulated at all. The term pharmaceutical grade was developed to help describe the purity of a particular supplement and all types of supplements are not graded the same. Marketers would have you believe that their product with this term automatically makes their product more potent and purer.
Determining the potency and purity of the supplement that you choose should be easy but marketing tactics make it very hard to accomplish. Many would claim that because they have a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certified facility, their product is pharmaceutical grade. However, since the FDA only ensures that the facility is clean, this rating means nothing as it would apply to the product. Some make their claim based on the claims of purity based on their own research. Regardless of how pure the motives of the manufacturer those motives have nothing to do with the purity of their fish oil.
The best manufacturers in this field submit themselves to a third party independent laboratory which uses the standards set by the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS). These standards are on the criteria set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). They have set 7 different categories in which the products they test are placed. No where in the standards does it mention pharmaceutical grade fish oil. The grades of fish oil as set by the IFOS are: ultra-refined, natural grade, combination products, kid products, functional food, raw material, pet products, and archived reports. IFOS publishes a web site with listings of products which meet their 5 star ratings.
Fish oil potency relates to the amount of EPA and DHA they contain and purity relates the product being free of toxins. The fish used to make fish oil often come from heavily contaminated waters and when the oil is concentrated the toxins will also be concentrated. Removing impurities from the finished supplement expensive when done correctly. Molecular distillation and high pressure filtration are used to reduce the amount of PCB and heavy metal toxins. Typically, the less a supplement costs the fewer safeguards that are taken in the production of the supplement. These results in a less potent product that contains additional impurities.
Food of all types have become more highly refined and the processing it requires has removed many of the nutrients that were once plentiful in all forms of raw food. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the nutrients we seek when we eat fish and take supplements. These nutrients have been shown to protect against heart disease, joint diseases, reduce blood pressure, and build up the immune system. This protection is the reason these golden capsules are in such high demand.
Regardless of what it is called, the most important thing about the supplement you choose is whether or not the capsule you take has the potency you require and none of the impurities that can cause you harm. A quality supplement should have no taste or smell. It should cause few of the noted side effects and be stored in a tightly sealed dark amber or light protected container.
One of the best ways to avoid all this controversy is to eat fish according to the standards of the American Heart Association, which states that adults should eat two 6 to 8 ounce servings of oily fish per week. Baked, broiled, or sauteed is the only way to cook fish if that is how you want to get your essential fatty acids. Take the time to know what you are taking and how it affects your body. Do not fall for the marketing ploys and terms that are designed to mislead and make sure you get the right product for you and your family.